“Willy Wonka” set to entertain R-P theater audiences

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Theatre-goers will feel like they’ve won a Golden Ticket when “Willy Wonka”, R-P’s All-School Play, takes the stage next weekend.

The familiar story, based on the 1964 children’s novel by Roald Dahl, will be performed in the RPHS Auditorium Thursday, November 8, Friday, November 9, and Saturday November 10 at 7:00 each night. Tickets will be $10 for adults and $7 for students and will be available at the door beginning at 6:00. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

Playwright and teacher Forrest Musselman will be directing “Willy Wonka”, a musical very similar to the 1971 movie featuring Gene Wilder as the title character.  The R-P show features a cast of forty-nine students, twelve backstage crew, artists, musicians, and numerous adult helpers, making this one of the most ambitious productions in recent history.

The annual All School Play is open to students in grades K-12. Seventy-seven students auditioned for “Willy Wonka”, making it the third consecutive year that turnout for auditions has neared eighty students, a testament to Musselman’s successful growing of the theatre program at RP. He credits show choice as a big factor in maintaining interest amongst students. “Willy Wonka is” coming on the heels of ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’ in 2017 and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in 2016,” Musselman said. “If the experience is fun enough, you get returning students. It’s encouraging when kids who aren’t cast one year come back the next year to try again.”

Audiences can expect to see features and capabilities of the new theatre showcased in this production, such as the projection of backgrounds onto a rear scrim, including an animated Chocolate Factory, which will launch the audience into “a world of pure imagination.”  Some set pieces will be flown in, some will be rolled in, and some props will be hung from the ceiling.

Musselman says that improvements have been made to the theatre this year, including a fix to the wing curtains allowing for better masking, and LED lights that have been unusable until now. Colin Schroeder is helping to bring the show to life with his unmatched construction skills, helping to build and design set pieces. Sam Cunningham’s art class is also contributing to the show by making props.

Among the adults assisting with the production is Katie Humble, who is in her 6th year of costuming with the school. “This is the largest cast I’ve costumed alone,” she states. She is grateful that some items were borrowed from Wabasha-Kellogg High School, as there are numerous unique and challenging pieces in this show, all to be created on a budget.

“Wonka’s coat will be made from scratch. I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I’m just going to make it,” Humble said with a smile. “Many costumes are thematically put together; there is a color story for each of the families.” Humble urged audiences to look forward to Augustus’s fat suit, Violet’s blueberry costume, and much more.

Michelle Erickson, whose extensive professional resume includes ten years of teaching dance through RP Community Ed, is the choreographer for the musical. “The Oompa-Loompas had to learn six different dances, four of which are to nearly identical music, but with different movements. It was difficult-they have been troopers!” Erickson said. This is the first time Musselman and Erickson have collaborated on a production, and she hopes it’s the first of many. “Forrest is amazing to work with. His patient demeanor with the kids is really special-it’s easy to see why he’s so well-loved with the students.”

Another first for Musselman is having a live orchestra to round out the musical. High School band director Adam George is the musical director for the five-piece group, including baritone, violin, French horn, oboe, and piano, which will be played by Sonja Cook. Ben Mahlke, in his first year teaching at RP, is the vocal director.

“I feel spoiled in here,” Musselman smiles. “The old theatre was great, too-and more intimate, but we have more options available to us here.” Musselman praises his cast and crew, “It’s nice to see all ages onstage. I’m proud of the older kids for stepping up and setting an example.” With over eighty people pulling together to create “Willy Wonka”, he is very pleased with the progress. “When I started here, I never could have imagined what we’re doing now.”

The cast and crew of “Willy Wonka” is as follows, in order of appearance: Willy Wonka (Xander Auman), Candy Man (Christopher Oatman), Phineous Trout (Olivia Thompson), Charlie (Carter Kopperud-Erickson), Mrs. Bucket (Annika Bakkum-Ekern), Mr. Bucket (Megan Ekern), Grandma Josephine (Faith Eide), Grandma Georgina (Emily Didier), Grandpa George (Adrian Martinez), Grandpa Joe (Cole Knutson), James (Gradien Merchlewitz), Matilda (Charlotte Meyer), Kids (Layne Peterson, Abby Prinsen, Aleksa Phillips, Mackenzie Bauer, Emilee Peterson), Augustus Gloop (Zane Schroeder), Mrs. Gloop (Annika Bakkum-Ekern), Head Cook (Isabelle Olson), Cooks (Ariana Bettinger, Alaina Meier, Kylie Stutzka, Dorothy Halder, Andrea Volker), Veruca Salt (Giselle Kahoun), Mr. Salt (Dylan Payne), Mike Teavee (Matthew Maynard),, Ms. Teavee (Christina Scaife), Violet Beauregarde (Kristina Stensgard), Mrs. Beauregarde (Julia Maynard), Oompa-Loompas (Zenessa Anderson, Taylor Johnson, Delaney Vaughn, Johanna Seifert, Morgan Guyer, Carter Merchlewitz, Hunter Lee, Emerson Bunke, Christian Lindmeier, Ethan Lanning, Cadel Canter, Trace Miller), Squirrels (Colton Horning, Caitlin Bauer, Emma Hughes, Adrian Tekautz, Sophie Meyer, Claire Shepard), Stage Manager (Cassidy Meldahl), Asst. Stage Manager (Jordan Miller), Make-up Design (Grace Thompson), Make-up (Jacob Johansen), Sound (Ryan Siebehaler), Lights (Adam Sand), Crew (Hunter Mart, Andrew McNeill, Taylor Buroker, Ayla McNeill, Paula Howe, Skye Church).

The musicians include Sonja Cook (piano), Emma Schuster (synthesizer), Chloe Bunke (bass guitar), Leah Himlie (oboe), Ethan Atkinson (euphonium), Mandee Tarras (horn), and Breena Pehler (violin).